Black cabbage tree (Melanodendron integrifolium)

Black cabbage tree in typical montane habitat
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Black cabbage tree fact file

Black cabbage tree description

GenusMelanodendron (1)

The black cabbage tree is a fairly large, spreading tree whose rough bark is permanently moist and is often darkened by a dense layer of mosses, lichens and ferns (2) (3). The smooth, dark leaves are thick and fleshy, and grow clustered towards the end of the branches, somewhat resembling cabbages and so giving this tree its common name (2) (3) (4). The leaves are quite large and leathery, and roughly oblong in shape, wider at the base, with entire (non-toothed) margins (4) (5).

Height: up to 4 m (2)

Black cabbage tree biology

The black cabbage tree blooms in October and November, bearing clusters of daisy-like flowers on the ends of the branches, surrounded by the leaves (2) (3). Each ‘flower’ measures around 1.2 centimetres across (2) (3), and, like other members of the Compositae family, is in fact a compound structure composed of many tiny, individual flowers known as florets (7). The ‘flower’ of the black cabbage tree is made up of around 60 to 75 central, yellowish disc florets surrounded by 20 to 25 white, petal-like ray florets (4) (5).

The seeds of the black cabbage tree often germinate on the trunks of tree-ferns, the weight of the black cabbage tree eventually causing the tree-fern to fall. The tree-fern and the cabbage tree both then continue to grow, the cabbage tree often rooting into the soil (1) (2) (3) (6).


Black cabbage tree range

The black cabbage tree is endemic to the island of St Helena, where it has a patchy distribution on the central ridge between 580 and 820 metres above sea level. Around 800 specimens are found across Diana’s Peak National Park, with smaller numbers at High Peak and one or two at Depot (1) (2) (3).


Black cabbage tree habitat

The black cabbage tree is a characteristic species of damp areas on mountain slopes, where it is particularly associated with tree-fern (Dicksonia) thicket (1) (6).


Black cabbage tree status

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable


Black cabbage tree threats

Since St Helena was first settled by humans, the native vegetation has been almost entirely destroyed by introduced grazers, cutting for timber and fuel, clearance for cultivation and plantations, and introduced plants. The remaining natural vegetation is now confined to the central mountain peaks (6) (7) (8). Although considered the most abundant of the endemic cabbage trees on St Helena, only a thousand or so black cabbage trees are thought to remain, and occur only in a few, fragmented locations (1) (9). The main threat to this species is competition from the introduced New Zealand flax (Phormium tenax), as well as other invasive exotic species such as Buddleia madagascariensis and Fuchsia coccinea, which have spread into and overrun the remaining areas of tree-fern thicket (1) (6) (8).


Black cabbage tree conservation

The black cabbage tree is protected within Diana’s Peak National Park, which has been subject to a management plan since 1996 in recognition of the great biological interest of the tree-fern thicket (1) (8). The black cabbage tree is also a protected species in St Helena under the Endangered Endemic and Indigenous Species Protection Ordinance No 7 of 1996 (1). Work has been underway to rescue the remaining areas of tree-fern thicket by eradicating invasive exotic plants such as flax, and by restocking plant populations with nursery-raised seedlings and cuttings (1) (3) (8). Although long-term storage of black cabbage tree seed does not seem possible because of the relatively short period the seeds remain viable (1) (3), the survival rates of transplanted seedlings appears to be good, and the population of this unusual tree, although still dependent on conservation management, is now increasing (1).


Find out more

To find out more about conservation on St Helena see:



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Disc floret
One of the small, tubular florets (tiny, individual flowers) which make up the central part of a composite flower head, such as in a daisy or sunflower. Each disc floret has reproductive parts (pistil and stamens) but generally no other conspicuous flower parts.
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
The beginning of growth, usually following a period of dormancy and in response to favourable conditions. For example, the sprouting of a seedling from a seed.
A composite organism made up of a fungus in a co-operative partnership with an alga. Owing to this partnership, lichens can thrive in harsh environments such as mountaintops and polar regions. Characteristically forms a crustlike or branching growth on rocks or tree trunks.
Ray floret
One of the small, broad florets (tiny, individual flowers) usually occupying the outer borders of a composite flower head, such in a daisy or sunflower. The structure of a ray floret resembles a single petal of an ordinary flower, and is usually conspicuously coloured.


  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2009)
  2. Steiner, S. and Liston, R. (2007) St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha. Second Edition. Bradt Travel Guides, UK.
  3. The Flora of St Helena: Black Cabbage Tree (June, 2009)
  4. Kadereit, J.W. and Jeffrey, C. (2007) The Families and Genera of Vascular Plants. Springer, Berlin.
  5. Cronk, Q.C.B. (1987) The history of endemic flora of St Helena: a relictual series. New Phytologist, 105: 509 - 520.
  6. Cronk, Q.C.B. (1989) The past and present vegetation of St Helena. Journal of Biogeography, 16(1): 47 - 64.
  7. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (June, 2009)
  8. Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI): A Rescue Plan for the Threatened Tree Fern Thicket of Diana’s Peak National Park, St Helena (June, 2009)
  9. Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC): St Helena (June, 2009)

Image credit

Black cabbage tree in typical montane habitat  
Black cabbage tree in typical montane habitat

© Peter Steyn /

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